He was an eccentric man in almost every conceivable way.

If describing him with great modesty, it would have to be said that he had unsettling mannerisms. Most found him disturbing. Many found him intolerable. At the very least he was considered disruptive and annoying. The apparent consensus by those who encountered him was that he should be exiled somewhere – anywhere – the further away, the better. He was rarely given the benefit of the doubt, let alone offered a sympathetic hand or ear.

Strange or unusual happenings would cause him to break out in an uncontrolled maniacal rant. Most often, he would simply mumble or talk to himself – however, sometimes he would break out in an uncontrollable cackle. Generally, these outbursts were unpredictable and the direct result of situation-dependent anxieties and phobias. He couldn’t help himself – he had been this way since he was in his early 20’s. Now he was in his mid-30’s.

He was a societal pariah.

The voices, unheard by others, bellowed at one another inside his head. They tricked and deceived him. They crippled him. They overpowered his ability to concentrate, warping his reality from what was really occurring around him to what he believed was occurring – he was quite delusional. The result was a paranoid caricature of an already animated individual.

Despite his idiosyncrasies, his was a gentle and sincere soul.

Young children were readily drawn to him. He would engage them, making them giggle as he pulled a quarter out from behind their ears, or making a silly face – they saw the authentic charm of his youthful vitality. They had yet to be swayed by fear-based notions such as prejudice and intolerance. However, upon encountering him – even in a world screaming for understanding and compassion for the mentally ill – their parents and/or guardians were quick to plant the seeds of fear and apprehension in their fertile little minds – simply by their reactions to his presence. With fearful wide eyes, their parents would hastily shroud and whisk their innocents away with a cautionary utterance. 

It hurt him.

Deeply.

When he would look at himself in the mirror – which he often did – he would stare deeply into his own eyes and pry deeply into his soul. All he could see was lunacy and fear. Often, he wondered if it was he who was sane, and them who had the mental disorder.

He wanted nothing more than to be ‘normal’ – to fit in with society

He was reminded of this every time someone gave him an askew look. Every time someone took an extra step or three to avoid him. Every time he was cussed at. Every time he was spat upon. Every time he was bullied and tormented. Every time he was beaten.

Every time was all the time.

Still, he made every possible attempt to get help.

He took his meds religiously – even though they barely kept him on an even keel. The side-effects were brutal, but they allowed him to function as a scarecrow semblance of a man. He could not hold down a minimum wage job for longer than a week or two. He lived in shelters and on the streets. He had no friends to assist hm. His parents were long gone, and the remainder of his family had given up on him long ago.

Often, he would curl up on his bed and weep for hours wondering what he had done wrong. What had he done to deserve this?

He had an inexplicable difficulty maintaining his personal hygiene. His hair and beard were long and matted; his tattooed skin was covered in a heavy sickly sheen of grime. He smelled ghastly. Every evening before bed, he would swear to himself that tomorrow was going to be the day that he would finally change.

Tomorrow almost never came.

* * * * *

The system was failing.

Even as mental health awareness and infectivity in general were increasing at alarming rates, government-assisted funding and education programs were being hacked away at an ever more alarming rate. There was little-to-no access to additional psychiatric therapy or assistance – the government had long ago deemed it inconsequential and cut funding. The homeless numbers were increasing beyond reason. The mentally ill were populating the jails and prisons, rather than receiving psychiatric help. The mentally ill were scapegoated for every inexplicable atrocity.

Many in need of treatment were turned away.

Unless the sufferer had access to private insurance or funding, an actual psychiatrist would only be seen if the patient was committed to a hospital for a 72-hour observation. And those visits were generally limited to a daily five-minute consultation.

* * * * *

She may have started her career some twenty-odd years ago with bright eyes and a childlike intensity. But with time – as with so many before and after her – the system ground her ambition and enthusiasm to a halt. Now it was just a job – a paycheck which barely kept her going from week to week. She was a state-appointed psychiatric counselor. She was responsible for doling out meds and providing and/or arranging psychiatric assistance to those in need.

He was seeking real help, more than the empty rhetoric that she reiterated week after week.

However, she did not give a shit about him or his situation.

He always arrived for his appointments with her early. Every week – anxiously hoping that this would be the visit in which just the slightest glimmer of hope into how to improve his condition would peek out from behind her dulled gaze.

He couldn’t grasp her unwillingness to provide support – she wasn’t even a little sympathetic. He didn’t know that she was burdened with an unrealistic caseload. She dealt with a blur of individuals five days a week, for over eight hours a day. She tediously repeated the same repertoire to each patient without the slightest inflection in her voice. She rarely bothered taking notes or even looked up at her patients’ faces. She just checked off the requisite boxes on their government forms.

* * * * *

And then it happened…

The government cut all remaining funding to the ‘non-critical’ psychiatric and mental health system. He was going to be left to his own devices. No more counselor, no more medications. No more hope.

Within days he rapidly began his descent into sheer lunacy.

The voices. The hallucinations. The delusions.

All he really wanted was to be seen for who he was, not what he was. Who was the man behind the soupy smog of stigma associated with his being a ‘weirdo’ – a paranoid schizophrenic?

Eventually, he melted into the darkness and never was heard from again.

As he shed the layers of his sanity, he came to believe what the voices and delusions that filled his head were telling him. Even he didn’t understand why he behaved and thought in this way, or how to stop it.

So how could anyone else…?